Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Power of Positive Thinking

It works as a party trick, but it doesn't on a deep level.

With Easter coming tomorrow (today), I was just thinking back to, oh,'84, or so... Home from college for the long Easter weekend and with nothing to do, I'd shown up uninvited Saturday at a high-school play acted in by my "estranged best friend"'s new best friend. My "friend" and I hadn't had a fight or anything, but she'd been telling me in letters about this great new girl at school... So I showed up at the play ("Man in the Moon Marigolds"); my friend freaked out and ignored me at first, then finally invited me to join her and HER friend and cast members for pizza. AWKWARD. Since I was still hanging around, she politely invited me and her friend over to her house. Her friend soon had to go home. G. and I sat and talked stiffly for about another hour or so. Finally, out of pure politeness, she asked if I wanted to spend the night. The vibes were so non-existent, I said no and left. Once home, though, stayed up 'til dawn, wrote a pretty Easter poem that attempted to rearrange the awkward vibes of the night before. Part of it I still remember by heart:

Sunday morning silver floods the room
with all the goodness I can muster
and I say goodbye to past infractions, impurities,
the vapid ash of what has cornered my faith.

I thought at the time that I could, by channeling, somehow magically reconfigure and/or charm the lost relationship into something special again. I could not. I had pretty thoughts in my head and pretty words on paper, but the thing itself had already disappeared. (I was soul-sick over that girl up until '88 or so. Her loss clouded what should have been fun years at college.)

So that's my Easter memory at the moment. But thinking about that also made me think of the "philosophy" of "the power of positive thinking." I most recently employed said philosophy while in New York/Weehawken; I was truly grateful for being there, for the beauty and good vibes of the place. I said so all the time (both out loud and to myself and to "God"). And I tried and tried and tried to stay there, up until the very last second. According to the positive thinking creed, and combined with personal effort, that should have been enough! Nope.

Along those lines, here's another similar trick I tried a few times that DID work as far as actually changing my mood (not my circumstances, just my mood):

(1) When I was six, I had a babysitter on some days; she and I were both told that I could not go across a busy street to the playground by myself; she had to go with me. One day, I asked her if I could go by myself. She said yes, and I did. When I came home, my parents were already there for some reason, along with the babysitter. Where had I been? At the playground. By yourself? Yes. We told you not to go without ---; why did you disobey us? [While the babysitter had indeed told me to go ahead, I didn't tell my parents this. Not to protect her, but because, perversely, I was kind of curious to see what was going to happen.] I dunno. [I got a spanking, the very idea of which usually terrified me as a kid, but in this case it didn't because I was in a weird "Hmmm...let's see what will happen" state of mind. I for some reason was completely disassociated from that punishment.]

(2) When I was in junior high, my parents were being punitive (as was their wont). Whatever minor thing I'd done, I was being sent to bed early. Usually, the norm was that I'd argue and moan and stomp off to bed at the last minute before the "deadline," feeling hated and hateful, just bad vibes all around. This time, though, I -- an hour ahead of the early bedtime -- drew a warm bath, soaked leisurely, got in my pajamas, went out to bid them a pleasant guten nacht before walking calmly to my room and turning out the lights. The looks on their faces! I didn't do all that to mess with them, but, again, had just intentionally experimented with being in a particular state of mind...

(3) While at grad school in SF in the mid-90s, missing a married man I'd been seeing in Austin who was barely/very rarely communicating with me, I was walking across campus feeling horribly lost and lonely, and then thought I'd pull the trick again, imagining that I was just now seeing him walking up to me... The flood of serotonin, or whatever pleasure-inducing internal chemical it was, was bizarrely effective; my mood changed immediately.

Knowing that I can conjure up such good feelings, why then don't I try to do so more often? Eh, because it's fake. In the above cases, I hated my parents, I didn't like the absent lover for leading me on. I'm kind of a purist, and I'm not one in general for pretending to feel things that I don't feel. Doing The Trick felt/feels somehow like cheating. Denying the reality of the situation.

On the other hand, wishing desperately for the love of my high-school friend and for NYC/Weehawken was The Real Thing. The poems and prayers, however agitated, were deep and true. And, ultimately, much less effective!

While neither The Real nor The Trick ever actually get me the outcome I want, at least with The Trick, I feel momentarily better!

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